Oberlin Studio at Guitar Retreat in Scotland
Five out of the six members of last spring's Oberlin guitar studio joined my wife and me for a five-day guitar extravaganza on the island of Greater Cumbrae, off the western coast of Scotland. Organized and led by the perpetually cheerful and reliably hilarious Matthew McAllister, the event was a pure delight.
The setting was truly unforgettable: the island is romantically wind-swept and surprisingly pastoral, with only one small village nestled around the harbor and the rest of the island, vistas of pastureland and stone walls backed by the moody sea and the distant mountains of the mainland. The festival, or "retreat" as Matthew would have it, took place entirely on the grounds of the village's cathedral, famously Europe's smallest. Most participants were lodged on the campus of the cathedral (some were housed in other locations around the island); an able staff prepared and served three meals a day for everyone. Teaching took place in several rooms about the building and performances were held in the grand (if small!) sanctuary. It was nothing if not friendly and intimate.
The staff assembled by Mr. McAllister was excellent. Concerts were given by England's Amanda Cook, Cuba/USA's René Izquierdo, Canada's Patrick Kearney, Slovenia's Uros Baric and of course by Mr. McAllister himself, who was accompanied by his wife, flutist Aisling Agnew for part, and by guitarist Allan Neave for part as well. In addition, I was a staff teacher, along with Peter Stewart and Allan Neave. At the Retreat's conclusion, there was the famous Quiz, emceed by the indefatigable Matthew McAllister, in which the crowd, broken up into four teams, grew uproarious trying to grapple with a range of guitar-related trivia, long into the night.
Classes and lessons were found by my students to be excellent all-round. The concerts were first-rate, and the overall experience, including the housing, the food, the mood, pacing and character of the event, and the location, all conspired to create a truly fantastic experience for all. Of special note was the easy balance between adult guitar hobbyists and serious collegiate professional-track players. In the absence of a competition, the event encouraged an unusual level of cross-generational camaraderie, a mood much enabled by our many meals together at long communal dining tables.
Following is a pictorial essay, capturing key moments of the event.
The Retreat opened with a student recital. The students, arriving from all over the world (including from Sydney, Santiago, Geneva, Seattle, and of course, Oberlin), played solo selections. Following are shots of the Oberlin studio members during this concert.
The first feature artist performance was given by Montreal's Patrick Kearney. He played music of Ponce, Domeniconi and Koshkin, and newer works by Gougeon and Stafylakis.
Uros Baric, a young guitarist from Slovenia, was perhaps the busiest member of the Retreat's staff. In addition to teaching, giving a lecture on home recording and playing a solo recital, he was also recording students in 45-min. sessions, then editing the recordings for the students to take home with them. His recital, dedicated solely to the music of Fernando Sor, was pure elegance.
To launch each event of the Retreat, our host, Matthew McAllister, gave the indispensable prequel, made up of equal parts critical info and wisecracks. He was having fun.
The next feature artist was Amanda Cook, from England. She gave an extremely compelling performance with many lovely moments to take home. Her program included works by Tarrega, Bach, Moreno-Torroba, Möller, Broca, Villa Lobos and a delightful new work written for her by staff member and Glasgow native, Peter Stewart.
During the course of the event, there was plenty of time to explore the island. Here are a few shots of the environment we shared.
Mathew McAllister began his Saturday afternoon concert with duets with his one-time teacher, Scotland's guitar pedagogue-in-chief, Allan Neave. He continued with some solos, including Barrios' La Catedral and the quietest performance of anything I've ever heard, in a sublime rendering of a Satie Gnossienne.He also featured duets with his wife, Aisling Agnew, the superb flutist. Their duets were the musical-emotional highlight of the week for both me and for my wife. We were both brought to tears by their performance.
In the meantime, I had time to teach several individual lessons and coach some ensembles, including a duo playing the Albeniz Tango, a quartet playing a work by Andrew York, and this octet, playing an arrangement by Roberto Kuhn (second from right, with beard), of the fugue from Piazzolla's quintet for piano and string quartet. Here, we are rehearsing.
René Izquierdo bagan his Sunday afternoon concert with duets with his wife, Elina Chekan. René played a thrilling program replete with intense emotionalism and startling virtuosity.
Peter Stewart, Glasgow guitar professor, led the guitar orchestra on our final night, in a performance of a piece he wrote for the occasion. It was all about Matthew and Aisling and got quite a response from the honored couple and the crowd alike.
The Retreat ended with the Quiz concocted by Matthew. By it's conclusion, the crowd was rowdy and happy. Here we all are:
Thank you to Matthew McAllister for arranging such a wonderful time for all the participants. And a special thanks to the Oberlin Conservatory Guitar Studio secret benefactor, who made attending this event for the students possible. We'll never forget it!!